|Photograph: Dan Cappellazzo [Niagara Gazette]|
"We are showing publicly that we take responsibility of ourselves," Allah said. "We are not relying on somebody to speak for us and we are not relying on somebody to take care of us."
The group stood in a circle in Legend’s Park, discussing a range of topics from the historical treatment of African-Americans, to the family’s importance in a productive community, to the responsibility of individuals to learn for themselves about this country’s heritage and history.
"It’s important that we are mindful and aware of what we need to do for ourselves," Allah said. Resident Ezra Scott braved the December air to show his support. He spoke about critiques of the national protest, whether they were to identify police brutality or community violence. In the end, he said, it is not localized to a specific issue. Rather, it is a gesture of strength to identify that community members who are not often heard have a voice. "Whether it was because of an unfortunate event," he said, "we need to take charge, take initiative, keep it moving, and people are going to follow."
A focus of the forum was that it was not organized specifically around faith, color or denomination. Those present talked of a common humanity that must be elevated and honored if we are to live in a truly equal, just society. The group took time to congratulate the presence of the council members and thanked them for standing in unity with their cause.
"The power behind it," Grandinetti said, "is once you take the risk and use your voice one time it becomes easier and easier ... It’s not about being angry or violent, it’s about having a voice." She discussed her involvement in women’s and children’s rights. She asked for those present to raise their issues with positive energy in city government. "We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world and this city should be thriving," she said. "But it’s because there’s a small group of people who want to be big fish in a dirty little pond. They are keeping it down."
The group also touched on an understanding of historical context. Allah spoke of immigrant community members who had changed their name to conceal themselves from persecution, while Grandinetti recounted her father’s own efforts to do the same. "Out of the 238 years we have been in this country, 189 of those years we were not allowed to participate in American society. Eighty-nine years we were slaves, another 100 years we were segregated," Allah said. "That’s over 75 percent of the time we have been in this country we’ve been looked at as less than, as thugs, as savages." Walker spoke how American civil discourse had devolved, rather than progressed, with election of President Barack H. Obama. He recounted his shock at how this president had been spoken about in media, while other members of the crowd noted that his very citizenship had been questioned from the start.